Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Winter had definitely come to Spearfish Lake in the weeks since Randy had been there with the girls. There had been a fresh snowfall, and the sidewalks were piled high with snow shoved up on them by the snowplows. The streets were clear now, and the city's skid steer loader was clearing the piles of snow and loading it into dump trucks. He drove on through town, where the limbs of the pine trees were weighted down with snow, making the scene look very Christmas-like, and on out to his parents' home on Point Drive.
He was going to be missing Crystal and Myleigh a lot over Christmas break. He'd gone longer in the summer without seeing them, but this one was going to be hard. In spite of all the studying, they'd spent a lot of time together, working out, kayaking and surfing with Crystal; playing music and talking history and books with Myleigh, and just hanging out in their rooms, or the cafeteria, or occasionally a restaurant out on Superior Street when the cafeteria food seemed especially bad. In less than a year, they'd become easily the best friends he'd ever had. These were the good times, he knew. In a few short months they'd start to come to an end and the future after giving these two up seemed to stretch bleakly and endlessly.
"I suppose you have a big pile of dirty laundry," Randy's mother greeted him as he came in the door.
"A couple days' worth," Randy smiled. "I've been hitting the books pretty hard, and blew out as soon as I finished my last final."
"Randy, I don't know what's gotten into you," she smiled. "Don't you know it's traditional for a college student to bring home a semester's worth of dirty laundry?"
"I guess that makes me a non-traditional student," he grinned. "Dad home?"
"No, he had a meeting out at the plant," she told him. "Nothing terribly important, I guess, but time-consuming. Is it something important?"
"No, just curious," he said. "Finals went pretty well. I won't know for sure till I get back, but I think I made the Dean's List."
"That's wonderful," she said. "I know you worked awfully hard. Maybe you'll get a chance to rest up now that you're home."
"Actually, that sort of worries me," he said. "It's not going to be like last summer, when I was working. I'm planning on just getting some workouts in, doing some snowboarding, and spending some time with the books."
"Without your girlfriends to divert you, I can see it would be a little dull," she said. "How are they doing?"
"Pretty good," Randy said. "They're spending the holidays with Crystal's family. The place where Crystal's mother works has an end-of-the-year inventory and book closing. They've spent the holidays there the last few years helping with that, and picking up some extra money. I guess they're planning on doing it again."
"You're not going to drive down and see them, are you?"
"It would be tempting," he said. "But they're going to be fairly busy, and I wouldn't want to get in the way." Yes, it was going to be dull over the holidays.
Snow Snake Valley wasn't a big ski resort, but it had never been intended to be. It wasn't far off the state road west of Turtle Hill, and was mostly a place where local folks went to get in a little skiing. It was a pretty low-key operation, and had been in and out of business several times over the years, with different owners trying their hand at making a go of the little ski hill, but never anyone with enough money to bring it up to the level of a first-rate operation. There was only one good run and one ski lift; it had been salvaged from some place out west years before, and was kept going mostly on habit. The snowmaking equipment was limited, usually only used for fixing up bad spots. Usually Snow Snake Valley only operated on weekends, although over Christmas break, with good snow, the owners planned on keeping it open as long as there was business to justify it. While lift tickets made up part of the business, there was also a small snack bar with a limited menu that helped keep some revenue flowing. It was a good place to warm up on a cold day on the slope.
During the week, it wasn't crowded. There were only a handful of people on the slopes when Randy drove out the next day to give his new snowboard a workout. He'd had it out once at Sugar Mountain, and it was a more aggressive board than the rentals he was used to, so it was clear that it was going to take some practice to use it well on fairly normal moves, let alone tricks. He hoped he'd be able to get some instruction. There was supposed to be an instructor around on weekends, and maybe there'd be someone else there today from whom he could pick up something. Marginal as it was, it was nice to have Snow Snake close to home; he expected he'd be spending a lot of time out there the next few weeks.
He spent a couple hours on the slope in the morning, not doing anything radical, just practicing smooth turns and gaining confidence in the board. By the time that he was ready to head in to warm up, he felt a lot better about the blue board he'd purchased at the ski shop in Marquette. He got a couple hot dogs, some chips, and a big cup of coffee, and sat down in the back corner of the little cinder-block building to warm up, trying to visualize the moves, to make them automatic and reflexive, just like some of the martial arts things he'd learned, just like some of the surfing and kayaking moves. It had helped there, and ought to help here.
"Hi, Randy," a voice said. He broke from his reverie and looked up, to see Nicole sitting down across from him, wearing a nice lavender, black, and white ski outfit, a cup of coffee in her hand. "I didn't expect to see you out here."
"I bought a new snowboard last weekend," he told her. "Just came out to get used to it a little."
"I figured you'd be out messing around with those girlfriends of yours," she smirked.
"No, they're in Chicago for the holidays," he said. "And, they're not girlfriend girl friends, just friends who happen to be girls."
"I wondered about that," she said, taking a sip of her coffee. "There were some stories going around. One of them's the girl you go surfing with, right?"
"Yeah, that's Crystal," he told her. "Myleigh is the one who plays the Celtic harp."
"I heard about her. You remember Tiffany Archer, used to be Langenderfer-McMahon, don't you?"
"Sure, she was at Jennifer's party, and I took the girls out to the dog lot the morning after."
"Tiffany said she was real impressed with both of them, and wondered how you could handle two girlfriends like them."
"I hope I'm not getting that kind of reputation," he shook his head. "They're just friends I hang out with. They didn't have any place to go over Thanksgiving, so I offered to bring them home. I couldn't keep them both as friends if I got serious with one of them. Since they're roomies and good friends themselves, there's no way I could do it on the sly. So, I don't try. Besides, while they're fun, I'm not sure I'd want to get serious with either one, anyway."
"I heard you had this Crystal down with those people who meet above Spearfish Lake Appliance." The way Nicole said it, it sounded like she thought the group was a bunch of crazed homicidal maniacs.
"I'm one of those people," Randy admitted, whether she liked it or not. "Yes, I had Crystal up there. She's a karate black belt, which is another reason to not step out of line with them. She'd break me in half." Actually, he wasn't sure how true that was anymore. Crystal was better at karate, she'd proved that both against Blake and in their workouts in the PEIF, but the sessions he'd had with Gil and the others had perhaps given him an edge in all-around capabilities. It would probably be a close match if they ever went all out, but he still wouldn't want to have Crystal seriously pissed at him.
"You like to live dangerously, don't you?" Nicole grinned.
"It's more just exercise and skill development," he told her. "It's one of those things you hope you never have to use. Unfortunately, I've had to use it twice in the last year. Let me tell you, that's pretty damn scary."
"You didn't tell me about that last summer," she said, her brow furrowed.
"It isn't the sort of thing I like to talk about," he said, shaking his head. "The second time, two guys with knives came after Crystal, and we had to neutralize them. They're in the Tennessee state pen now. I wanted Crystal to talk it over with the gang, and help her get a little perspective on it. It's fun to practice, but it's not as much fun when it's real."
"God, I hope you're around if anybody ever comes after me like that."
"Just hope it never happens," Randy told her. "The best that can happen isn't fun. Look, I'd really rather not talk about it, if you don't mind. What brings you out here?"
"Oh, I'm snowboarding, too," she said. "I figure on spending a fair amount of time out here this break. I've got some friends at Weatherford I go out with a few times in the winter."
"I guess I knew you played around with it some." Now that he thought about it, they'd talked about it last summer, when she'd seemed pretty uninterested in the things he was interested in.
"It mostly came along after we graduated. I've gotten to the point where I'm not bad at it. I mean, I'm not doing helicopters off the half-pipes, but I don't fall down much."
"That's good to know. I'm about at that point, maybe. I figure on getting in a lot of practice out here over break."
"That's great," she said brightly. "It'll be nice to have someone out here who I know. I figured it was going to be a little dull just coming out here by myself."
"So, what's happening down at Weatherford?" he asked. "You changed majors to what? Social Work?"
"It isn't going real well, and I'm thinking about changing back," she nodded unhappily. "It's probably going to mean an extra year."
"I don't know about Weatherford, but I do know they have the education people on a pretty tight track at Northern," Randy said in an understanding tone. "Crystal jumped through all the hoops, and she's still going to have to go an extra semester. Myleigh wouldn't have been able to get through in four years without summer courses."
"Yeah, if I change back, it's still going to take five years," she said with a touch of dejection in her voice. "How's it going with the construction management?"
"It's all right. I'm having to carry a hell of a load to get through in four, but I managed twenty hours this semester and I'm on the Dean's List, so I guess I'm handling it." He polished off his coffee, and threw the empty cup in a nearby trash can, along with the debris from his lunch. "You want to sit here and talk, or do you want to get out on the slope?"
"Let's get out," she smiled. "Then when we get cold, we can come back in and talk some more."
"Sounds like a plan," he said as he got up.
Nicole hadn't been out before that day, and it took her a little while to get organized while Randy waited with his new snowboard. They rode the rickety lift to the top of the slope, talking about days gone by, and then got out on the snow. Nicole soon proved that she did indeed know how to snowboard. She was better at it than Randy, not a lot better, and not as good as Crystal, but good enough to enjoy it.
"Hey, you're not bad," Randy said when they got to the bottom.
"I'd like to be better," she said as she picked up her board and headed back toward the lift with him. "You're not bad, yourself. You do seem to have a nice, smooth turn."
"Probably comes from the surfing," Randy said. "In both surfing and kayaking you learn a lot about edges."
"When I had so much trouble with your surfboard last summer, it made me wonder why I couldn't get it."
"The big thing was that when we were messing around that afternoon, we didn't really have the odds in your favor," he said, remembering Nicole in her bikini, falling off the board repeatedly, and how soft and warm she felt in his arms dripping wet. "My board is awful edgy for your first time out, and we didn't really have good conditions to learn in. Maybe if I go to Florida on break, I'll see if I can find a real stable used egg. They're not expensive. We could play with that next summer."
"It'd be nice to head down to Florida over this break and mess around with it," she said as they reached the lift and waited for a chair to come by. "Guess we couldn't, though."
"Yeah," he agreed as they caught a chair. "I can think of several reasons why not."
"Yeah," she snickered. , "Like that Crystal of yours might break you in half if she found out."
"That doesn't enter into it." Not that either Crystal or Myleigh would be upset if he were to go out with his old hometown girlfriend -- they both knew he'd seen her over the summer -- but taking off to Florida would be something else; he'd feel like he was cheating on them. And, in his own mind he would be, but he couldn't tell Nicole that. "But, I don't think our parents would think a lot about you and me taking off for a week or two, especially over the holidays."
"I suppose you're right," she shook her head. "And I've got family stuff I couldn't duck. You probably do, too. Maybe some other time."
"Could be," he said. After all, in a year, it wouldn't matter, and both he and Nicole would still be in college. Maybe she'd have another year after that. There was plenty of time to build things up with her after Myleigh and Crystal were gone from his life. There was no reason he had to rush things with her.
Snow Snake Valley was closed on Christmas Day. From Randy's viewpoint, it was just as well, since he wouldn't be going out there, even though he'd spent at least a part of every day over the previous week on their biggest run, almost always spending part of the time with Nicole. While neither of them was going to be a master at it, they could at least coach each other a little, and they picked up more from some of the other snowboarders who showed up from time to time.
But snowboarding and hanging out with Nicole had to be set aside for Christmas Day. It was the first time in a couple years that the whole family had been present. This year, there was a new addition: Rachel and Joel's baby Jared, who at six months predictably stole the show. With Ruth and Dave planning to get married in the spring, Ryan and Linda Clark's grandchildren promised to be a feature of Christmas for many years to come, at least on the rare years that the family would get together.
On Christmas morning, Randy called down to the Chladek's in Glen Ellyn, mostly to wish both the girls a Merry Christmas, but to hear their voices, as well. He missed them. "Looks like you started a new tradition up here," he told them. "Ruth was so peeved at you two showing her up, that she insisted that everybody go formal."
"It'll be a nice tradition for you," Myleigh told him. "If I've taught you nothing else, I would hope that you have learned that there is a time and a place when formality is appropriate."
"You realize that means I have to wear a tie?" Randy complained. "Of all the inane things ever forced on a man . . ."
"It hardly matters when you consider all the inane things that have been forced on women in the name of fashion, Randy, dear," Myleigh twitted him. "We have to pay you men back somehow."
"So, how are things down there?" he asked, changing the subject since he knew he was losing on this one.
"Much the same as last year," Myleigh told him. "I suppose we shall have a few bits of news when we return to campus, and I confess I'm anxious for that. How are things with you?"
"Sort of dull," he said. "I've been out with the snowboard a bit, been working out some. I'll be glad to be back, too."
"How goes it with the snowboard?" Crystal asked -- she was in the conversation on an extension.
"Pretty good," he said. "Turns out an old friend of mine snowboards, too, so we've been working with each other some. I think I'll be ready for some more advanced stuff when I get back."
"That'll be neat," Crystal replied; he could hear the grin in her voice. "Maybe we ought to think about going someplace besides Sugar Mountain sometime."
"That'll be fun," Randy told her, realizing that there was more to Crystal's statement than met the ear. They'd talked about a snowboarding trip as a reason, perhaps a cover story, to get away from campus sometime for other, more intimate activities, and now she was suggesting it right in front of her family and Myleigh. "We'll have to think about it when we get back to Marquette."
"Almost halfway there," Crystal told him. "Maybe we'd better break this off. Myleigh and I have to get dressed for dinner."
"Enjoy yourselves," he grinned, wishing he could be a fly on the wall in the Chladek household in a little while. That could be interesting.
Although he knew Crystal had other motives for her statement about getting away to some place besides the local ski hill, the thought kept coming back to him later in the week as he continued to head out to Snow Snake Valley every day. It really wasn't that great a ski hill. After as much time as he and Nicole spent on it, they both knew it all too well and were getting bored with it. It finally came to a head one afternoon a few days after Christmas when he and Nicole were sitting in the shabby snack bar, having yet another cup of coffee. "You know, it'd be nice to have a day on a good ski hill," he told Nicole. "What would you say to our hopping in the car early some morning, driving somewhere, getting a few hours in, and coming back in the evening?"
"I'd say not just yes, but hell yes," Nicole grinned. "Maybe tomorrow. I haven't got anything going."
"Me either," Randy agreed. "You got any ideas?"
"How about Akinback Mountain? That's about three hours from here," she suggested. "It's not that bad a drive if we're going to spend the day."
"Talked me into it," Randy grinned.
It was well before dawn the next morning when he stopped the Dodge in front of Nicole's house, so early that she was the only one awake. There was a light on in the kitchen; he saw her come out the door even before he got out of the car, carrying a thermos and some coffee cups. It was only the work of minutes to get her gear in the car and the snowboard on the roof rack, and they were on the road.
It was still before dawn when they stopped for breakfast, and the sun came up after they got back on the road, looking red and nasty. The sky was filled with tortured-looking high clouds, and there was some wind. "Looks like we might get some snow," Nicole told him.
"I checked the weather. Supposed to get an inch or two," he said. "We probably ought to be heading back before dark, just in case."
"We're going to be early enough that we ought to be able to get a real good day in," she smiled.
The cost of lift tickets for a day at Akinback Mountain would have covered a week at Snow Snake Valley, but they were worth every penny. The runs were long and winding, and the place wasn't very crowded, since it was a weekday, although there were still a lot of vacationers around. The snow was really good; there was a lot of snowmaking equipment, and the runs were pristinely groomed. They hadn't been on snow like that at Snow Snake all winter. They got in run after run, starting on the intermediate hill, and then, with a little trepidation, moving on to the expert hill, which they were delighted to discover they could handle. It was terrific snowboarding, the kind they'd dreamed of, and it made the trip worthwhile.
As the day ran on, the sky clouded up, and it started to spit snow. Before long, it started to come down hard, a really nice powder that made the runs even more fun, even though they couldn't see halfway down the hill from the top. But, with the kind of snowboarding they were having, it was hard to quit. There was one last run, and another, and yet another, yelling and whooping with glee, until the lights were on over on the intermediate hill, and they realized that it was getting dark.
"Shit, we should have been out of here hours ago," Randy said. "I wonder how much snow we got."
"I think more than an inch or two," Nicole told him. "Maybe they got that down in Camden, but there's a lot more here."
It soon proved that she was right. They had trouble finding the Dodge when they got back out to the parking lot, and there was close to a foot of snow sitting on it. "If there's been that much snow, I'll bet the roads are going to be pretty shitty," he commented.
"Maybe we should go back up to the lodge and get a road report," she suggested. "I'd hate to get stuck and stranded somewhere."
"I would too," he agreed. They scraped enough snow off the car to be able to strap the snowboards down, then trudged back up to the lodge and headed for the desk clerk.
"Holywa, da roads are pretty bad, yaah," the blonde young woman behind the desk told them in an accent that reeked of Marquette and the Iron Range. "Dey closed da Interstate, and dey're saying' to stay off da state roads. I wouldn't head out on 'em unless ya got four-wheel drive, eh?"
"You got rooms?" he asked.
"We got some left, yaah," the woman nodded. "You want one, eh?"
"Lemma talk it over, eh?" he replied, and led Nicole a few feet away from the desk. "The Dodge is good in snow, but it's not four wheel drive," he said. "Maybe we better stay."
"I think so, too," she agreed. "I'll bet they're expensive as hell. Let's just get one and split the cost. At least if we stay the night, we can get out on the slope again tomorrow."
Randy could see that the suggestion was going to lead places that he was pretty sure he didn't want to go, but there weren't a lot of alternatives. "All right," he told the desk clerk. "We take it, yaaah?"
It was a lot more money than he’d hoped; in normal circumstances, he'd have gone a long way out of his way to avoid paying $180 for a single night in a room, but any old port in a storm, he thought. Fortunately, he had his credit card. "Dey got a good special in da dining room," the desk clerk told them.
"Yaah, we try it," he said. "We better call and let dem know we're stain' da night. You godda phone 'roun' 'ere?"
After they called home, to the reaction from both his and Nicole's folks that it was probably better for them to stay over than it was to risk going out on the roads, they headed for the dining room, and got a seat at a small, intimate table back in the corner. Randy cringed when he looked at the prices on the menu, but realized that if he was going to be spending time hanging around big ski resorts, he'd better get used to paying the toll. Sugar Mountain and Snow Snake Valley looked a lot better now.
However that really wasn't what was bothering him as they waited for their dinners to come, and he knew it. Maybe they could just spend the evening in the lobby by the big fireplace, then go up and go to sleep, but somehow, he doubted that was what would happen.
Nicole picked up on it. "Randy, is what's bothering you what I think is bothering you?" she asked softly.
"Probably," he admitted. "I'm wondering if we really want to go where this is leading."
"It's not like we haven't been there before," she smiled.
He nodded; there were some pleasant memories there, it was true. "Yeah, but that's a long time ago. A lot has happened since then, for the both of us."
"Is it those friends of yours?"
"Yeah, I guess it is," he sighed, realizing that she'd gone right to the heart of the matter. "Maybe it shouldn't be, because there really isn't anything there, not for the long run, anyway. I lose Myleigh in four months, now, and Crystal in less than a year, and I'll probably never see them again. I've always known that, and we've always been careful to not promise anything to each other that we can't deliver. I don't know that I can do that with you."
"Would it help you to know that I don't feel like making promises I can't keep, either? I think I learned my lesson from Bob."
"I'm sorry," he shook his head. "Maybe it was for the best."
"At least I found out in time," she said sadly. "When you and I were together last summer, I really hoped it could be like the old days, but those days are gone, like we agreed. But at least, we hadn't made any promises to each other that we had no intention of keeping."
"That's true," he said, nodding his head. "Someday we might feel like it, but I don't even want to consider it till I'm out of college. You know as well as I do that a lot could happen in the meantime."
"That's how I look at it," she smiled. "It's going to be two and a half years for me. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy ourselves in the meantime, so long as there aren't any hidden promises or hard feelings. Is that OK with you?"
"I guess," he said thoughtfully. They were sure talking around the edges of their main worry, but in a restaurant like this, they couldn't do much else.
"Would you be breaking any promises with Crystal or Myleigh? Even unspoken ones?"
"No, and maybe that's why I feel a little uncomfortable," he told her. "Maybe I feel like there ought to be, but, like I said, there's a definite end in sight, so we've been careful about it, and careful to not keep secrets from each other. It's useless to try; Myleigh and Crystal have been good friends longer than I've known both of them together, and they tell each other everything. Nicole, I've got to be honest. I'd ask either one of them to marry me, if I thought they'd say yes, and if I thought that it would be fair to the other one. None of that is going to happen, at least not for years, and most likely not ever. So I enjoy having them for friends while I can. It's a package deal."
She shook her head. "It's a shame Bob wasn't that honest with me," she said ruefully. "But then if he had been, I'd have dumped him a long time before I did. And the fact that you're concerned about it shows me that you're a hell of a lot better than he was." She stopped for a second, then looked him in his eyes and asked softly, "Do you think there's ever going to be a chance for us?"
"Might be," he smiled. "Might not be. Like I said, I'm not making any promises I don't plan to keep. Ask me again in two or three years, and you might get a different answer." And, damn it, he thought, that's really the way it is. It was easy to see that he could take a different course, leading to getting more serious with her -- at the risk of them both burning each other. He could see that she realized it, too.
"We really can't do it any other way, can we?" she grinned. "At least we can promise each other not to make any promises until we're ready to keep them, right?"
"Sounds funny," he said. "But, that's a promise I can make."
"Me, too," she said. "Look, whatever happens tonight happens tonight, and doesn't mean anything for the future, right?"
"Has to be that way," he nodded.
"Good," she said, with a wide grin on her face. She glanced around, to make sure no one was close by, then lowered her voice and looked at him. "Do you realize that we made it in your back seat, and on a blanket out under the stars, and down at that little beach you took me to, but we've never done it in bed?"
"I realize that," he smiled. It was easier to say than he had expected, and there was still a little pang of guilt despite all the rationalization, but he knew that he wouldn't be able to avoid it. Would he tell Crystal and Myleigh? He wouldn't volunteer it, of course, but realized he'd tell the truth if he was asked. Maybe they wouldn't ask, and he could hope they wouldn't. "At the price we're paying for that damn bed," he laughed, "We'd better make good use of it."